Adam and I have been playing virtual chess. I found the electric chess board I used to play with all the time in the basement. That was kind of our thing, wasn’t it? Chess and battleship. Gosh, battleship, what a game. I really don’t remember who was better between us. I am sure you were aware how much of a sore loser I was (and still am) and for the sake of keeping the peace, you may have increased the odds, intentionally, in my favor. After all, you were an engineer; you had chess in the bag. Well, whether you, or pride, led me to believe it, I thought I was pretty good. Until Adam and his brilliant idea to play via the chess app.
I can’t even put my woefully poor performances on the extra practice with the computer he had before we started playing. They are that bad; it’s not like the games are very close, and I could say the extra inch he had on me was due to practice. I haven’t won a game. You can imagine how well I am handling it.
Mom and I were Facetiming with Adam last night, and she asked whether we had played in a while. Adam answered before I could, suggesting he ruined another game for us. Such a kind and selfless answer really. What a nice big brother. The truth is, we both know it was my doing. You see, I am still a hopeless sore loser, especially, I might add, when it comes to losing to him. There is a reason the ping pong table has been reduced to a heaping pile. Not because we haven’t been home together to play. It was game over when we started the win loss tally on the wall, which was my idea by the way. I just couldn’t resist.
My sorry explanation for the shambles of my performances is the game is over the phone. Ahh yes, let us see who the winner is when we have a physical chess board, and I can look at Adam square in the face across from me. I don’t see him when we play virtually, of course. The virtual game does not rev my competitive juices or put me in that high gear like the physical does. Maybe it is a soccer girl thing or contact sport thing. There is just something the grand world wide web, apps and video games cannot replicate. The physical presence of the opponent. And, in team sports specifically, the look in your teammates eyes before going into competition. My resolve to do battle is automatically fired up to another degree when I see them suit up with me. My heart is beating faster just thinking about it now.
My goodness, I miss sports. I long for them, as so much of the world does right now. As much as we love the games themselves, I would argue it is the people we miss and love more. We miss the physical camaraderie, whether fan or coach or player. The virtual world has done magnificently in allowing us to stay together in spirit during this time of social distancing and sheltering in place. Still, we suffer so because we are physical beings. I never thought I would want to hug people so badly as I do now. There is so much goodness in being physical beings and consequently, so much badness. Or more so “spoiled goodness” [Mere Christianity]. How exhilarating it is to be shoulder to shoulder with others cheering your team on. How unforgettable the training sessions and locker room craziness when you gather groups of high-octane, win-at-all-costs competitors.
The absence of sports, especially, reveals to us our physical need for each other in so many ways. There is a reason grief loves company, a championship is crowned with a dog pile and that last rep of running when you are seemingly spent is only doable because you have someone to your left and right doing it with you, suffering through it, too, by your side.
You know what this is like, dad, and the absence of it as well. Mom and I were talking about the weeks leading up to your death not too long ago when we were both feeling the weight of the world very heavily. She shared there was one day you weren’t feeling too well, couldn’t exactly describe it, and just wanted her to stay by you. Nothing more or less. Did you know the end was near? Did you sense an incredible loneliness approaching the end we all have to face for ourselves? We cannot face it for each other. How comforting yet terrifying it is that God walks with us through the door of death to His house. The God of the universe opening His door for us. Let me in but don’t make me go, Lord. She called me later that night letting me know to say some extra prayers for you. The door opened not too long after.
Was this what you were sensing? No one could walk through it with you when the time came so hold close to others while you can. When she was telling me this the other day, I couldn’t help but remember one of our phone calls. It is still so vivid in my mind. I was in the common area of our dorm in Marion. It must have been early afternoon because I was the only one there. Everyone else was probably at class. We were done talking and catching up, but you asked me to stay on the phone. There was something going on you couldn’t quite name, other than not feeling right. Same as mom said. I can only guess this was not quite in the sense of feeling sick like an upset stomach or runny nose, yet how else are you supposed to describe the creeping up of something invisible that moves you in a direction, though not knowing why, you do not wish to go. Like a movable walkway you alone are on and cannot get off.
I can’t say you knew what was coming. Maybe you did and didn’t. But how real and good is physical proximity and presence that it is the thing desired when nothing else seems to satisfy or fulfill a sense of safety and belonging, when all else seems utterly empty.
This is why virtual sports cannot exist. It is this real. Ought not too, that is, for fear of losing the very thing that makes them what they are. Reading, watching and hearing about sports is all quite good and will dampen the longing temporarily. However, it seems nothing fills quite like the actual taste and experience, the physical presence.
I realized this is much like Jesus feeding the five thousand (no, I do not know Scripture this well but don’t believe it a coincidence I was reading this story today). This massive crowd is following Jesus and He asks Philip, one of the twelve, where they can buy bread and feed them? Huh? Weren’t the signs and all He was teaching enough? Why did they need to be physically fed when Jesus had already done so much for them? And there was five thousand! How on earth. Well, He wants to physically feed them too, so He does.
After doing so, Jesus withdraws to the mountain by Himself. The people, of course, are looking for him after this miracle, and He tells them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him, the Father, God, has set His seal.” [John 6:26-27]
The people are eating this up (pun intended), and ask Jesus how they are to do this, “to work the works of God.”
Jesus responds, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
“What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do you perform?” (the people)
No doubt I have done this very thing, but reading it, I am confused. The people are asking for Jesus to do a sign so they may believe when He just said to them you all seek Me not because of signs but because you were filled by the loaves you ate. Isn’t He saying belief comes from being filled and being filled from feeding themselves on Himself? Signs, of course, help. Hearing and reading and watching, of course, all help. But here we are, after He feeds five thousand by a few loaves and a couple fish, asking for another sign so we may believe. And another. And another. Jesus desires to physically feed us, as He knows quite well we are physical beings. When He says to feed on the Bread of Life, His own flesh, He must be either mad and barbaric or the Incarnated God “who designed the human machine to run on Himself” [Mere Christianity].
I didn’t believe it growing up going to mass, dad. How was I supposed to believe, as the church does, the little wafer was the actual body of Jesus? There was no explanation I could understand. I didn’t know the Word. Nothing changed as I got older. Every week we went, and every week I didn’t believe I was eating actual flesh. Then I got to college and started reading the Word. I began to know the Word made flesh. I read and listened and watched others who knew Jesus. I saw the signs of Jesus through His bride, believing people. More and more I was believing in who Jesus is through Himself in the Word and through Himself in His body, the church. But He offers Himself still more. The Word made flesh. The Son of Man. God made flesh. God and man. The Bread of Life. Why Bread?
As I was continuously feeding myself on Him, I craved more. I think this is when the wafer started to transform. The Word was coming alive and so was the wafer. As true life is, it was real and filling.
I always wondered why Jesus says “truly, truly” all the time. “Truly, truly, I say to you.” The only insider knowledge I have is my own, and when I use “truly,” I intend a special degree of sincerity in what follows. Maybe what follows is difficult to believe. Jesus knows the people and their resistance to believing. I think this explains much of the reason why Jesus used it. I also believe the rest of the reason may be because it is the sincerest of pleas to the truth. The sincerity of Jesus is the sincerest it gets. His truth, THE truth.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves…My flesh is true food and My blood true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”[John 6:53, 55-56]
“For there is hope to attain a journey’s end when there is a path which stretches between the traveler and his goal. But if there is no path, or if man does not know which way to go, there is little use in knowing the destination. As it is, there is one road, and one only, well secured against all possibilities of going astray, and this road is provided by one who is Himself both God and man. As God, He is the goal; as man, He is the way.” [St. Augustine]
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life in all senses.
We are physical beings delighted with senses. We long for physical presence, touch and embrace because they are good, and it is part of our design. It can be perverted, of course, and unfortunately so. Still, the absence feels as an ache. People are aching for sports. Aching for camaraderie and passion and high fives and slaps on the back. People are aching for each other. Most desperately, people ache for Him.
Jesus seemingly gives the five thousand people all they need, His teaching and His signs, healings and miracles, to believe in Him. But we are a stubborn, slow of heart, unbelieving people. So He physically feeds them, feeds us. We seek Him, not only because of signs, but because we are filled by Him.
Truly, truly, I say to you, let’s get this Bread.